Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review of Destroyer by C.J. Cherryh

It is here and now I will officially abandon anything resembling a lithe and graceful intro to a book review of C.J. Cherryh’s ongoing (infinite?) Foreigner Universe; you wouldn’t be here unless you’ve read the first six books and thus would like to know whether Destroyer (2005), seventh overall novel and first in the third sub-set of trilogies (confused?) maintains the quality and consistency rendered to date. Short answer: yes. Detailed answer: keep reading.

Destroyer opens as the successful mission to rescue the thousands of human colonists stranded in deep space is returning to the Atevi homeworld. Despite two years traveling in voidspace, spirits aboard the ship are high. Peaceful first contact was made with the alien Kyo and all the colonists were picked up safe and sound. The only thing left is arrival. After the stressful events that led to this success, Bren Cameron, master linguist and diplomat, is ready for vacation once he gets planet-side. But all is not well upon arrival, (do not read other reviews if you want the reason spoiled), and once more Bren, alongside the Atevi dowager Ilsiliti and her grandson Cajeiri are forced to navigate delicate political, even militaristic waters if they want the peace that reigned upon their departure to once again exist in both Atevi and human societies.

One thing a lot of reading has shown me is that three-body problems create wonderful opportunities for tension and drama in fiction. In the first Foreigner trilogy it was humans, atevi, and dissident atevi, and the evolution of these spheres that generated tension and drama. In the second trilogy it was the introduction of the Kyo to refocus the two sides of the human mutiny aboard Phoenix. The third returns to matters similar to the first trilogy, but brings with it the backdrop and resulting sophistication of knowing the story to date. Jace is not just ship captain; he’s the guy who cut his teeth learning Atevi culture alongside the reader in the first trilogy. Ilsilidi is not just an aging dowager, she is the subtle but powerful force behind a lot of the successful negotiations in the second trilogy. Bren is not just master diplomat with a mission; he is a man who has endured assassination attempts, has issues with his mother, has a tangled love life, and has proven his worth on several significant occasions, helping shape situations for the better. These types of backdrops make Destroyer all the richer given it’s a return to a familiar setting.

If there is anything the Foriegner books have done to date it is to wonderfully unpack the social and political delicacies of foreign culture and human interaction. Cherryh wonderfully presents how what may seem minor changes at the top trickle down to cause major disparities in relationships at the social level. Mirroring how things work in the real world (at least a lot of the time), she shows how the removal of a leader associated with one party and replacement with another from a different party reaches beyond the individual level to affect the broader conditions. She shows how groups who choose to explicitly protect their own interests can sometimes actually foment a deeper, unintended sense of dissent among supporters. Destroyer, with its added complexities, continues this trend in solid fashion.

If there is anything to fault Destroyer for, it’s that it feels like an extended prologue with an action scene tagged on at the conclusion. Getting into more detail would spoil matters, but suffice to say there is a lot of journeying, equal parts exposition only semi-motivated plot. Based on the feel of this novel, one assumes (har har) that Pretender, next book in the series, will start to really dig into the machinations that lie at the heart of Destroyer’s main plot twist.

So, as stated, if you’re curious whether Cherryh was able to maintain the momentum and quality of the first two trilogies entering the third, yes, the tracks being laid continue to take the Foreigner train in a positive, consistent, and most importantly, engaging direction. Returning to the familiar setting of the Atevi homeworld, Cherryh makes the most of the changed stakes (an in some ironic ways produces a better version of Inheritor). Thus, for those hoping for more from the Kyo, it seems that storyline has been put on hold, at least temporarily as there are many mentions of the new alien race and the “serious troubles” they seem to be having on the other side of the galaxy with an unknown force. The focus seems squarely on the atevi world, and returning to its inherent issues. Overall, recommended.

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